Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Anti Americanism, Part Three
Anti Americanism as a Moral Imperative
Like my first piece, this one is observational in nature. It reflects my personal experiences in Europe, a place not unfamilar to me. Nothing I've written to date can be referred to as 'serious' writing. My views are observational in nature and they do not reflect views as shaded through a particular political standpoint-- though I readily admit I base those views on long held moral convictions. The conclusions are my own and I believe they are a fair representation of what I see and hear in my travels 'over there'.
Europe has changed, in my lifetime. I remember travelling, starting in the mid '80's and being engulfed in a culture foreign to my own-- and being enthralled.
There was a bond, if you will. Communism, was more than the ethereal academic study it was in the US-- it was real. Europeans took freedom a lot more seriously. West German papers were filled with stories of people who attempted to escape from the East and were caught, and families that were seperated for decades. French papers religiously reported on Soviet spy scandals and KGB spying prowess, all the while reminding their countrymen of the heroic Degaulle who, with the Americans, liberated Europe.
It was no matter that it was only mythology-- the French were free and stood shoulder to shoulder with America. Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite was the moral mantra of the French, notwithstanding the shame of the collaberationist Vichy regime, Algeria and the ruins French colonialism had left behind. We were all brothers in arms in the cause of freedom. Sure, there were disputes, but in reality they were no more than 'regional' in nature-- 'Hambugers? That's not cuisine!' or 'No, you can't really understand, there is no word in English that can translate 'amour'. Italians were overjoyed that dubbed 'spaghetti westerns' were seen and treated as a real 'understanding' of American culture. London barkeeps all replied to my request with, 'Ice? who needs ice?' All the while Europeans happily consumed KFC, burgers and flocked to see Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone and insisted on wearing Levi's.
Now, America has become the villain. What changed? Everything and nothing.
Why are we so surprised? It's not as if Europeans have a history of tranquil relations with each other. Why on earth should we think we'd be treated any differently? Wars, ethnic divisions, plots, conspiracies, fueding royal houses and competition to exploit those nations and resouces weaker than they are. Not that we really needed to actually understand European history- after all, how could we-- all we had to do was remember the dates, names of battles and listen to recent history majors tell us how wrong one side of the other was. We knew it all. We were sure that the Boston Tea Party, the Civil War and our own experiences qualified us to understand Europe better than the Europeans themselves. Why this is important will be addressed later.
It was no different in Europe. The French were imperious frogs, the English were stupide as a result of living on an Island-- too much inbreeding for too long, the Italians were, well, Italian-- too concerned with food and incapable of building a product that actually worked. The Germans were obsessed with marching in lockstep and were certain that art could be defined in technical and mathematical ways-- no need to address the emotional. That emotionality was reserved for self flagellation regarding the Holocaust-- as long as that self flagellation was dispensed in measured amounts on a regular basis, discussed in a way that was clinical and not emotional. The Dutch built inefficient factories to mass produce wooden clogs for tourists and the factories themselves became tourist attractions. The Americans? All business, no time for life, no understanding of culture. And so it went.
Like a dysfunctional family, Europe has finally found a way to exist without having to deal with it's own real problems. Anti Americanism provides that vehicle. Europeans need anti Americanism, to justify their own existance. Without anti Americanism, Europe would sooner, rather than later, slide back into her own pathologies. Witness the small flare when Jacques Chirac of France scolded Poland for her support of the US with regard to Iraq. Chirac told the Poles, to, "Stay quiet and mind your place at the European table".
The last 200 years have been the tape measure. America is stronger, faster, better. There is no getting around it. Not just in an economic sense, but in the artistic, educational, political and moral senses.
Our best days, as we say, are ahead of us. They always have been and always will be- it is how we are constructed. We always wonder what is over the horizon and strive to get there. We are not satisfied with what we know-- it is what we don't yet know that has been our obsession. We see the possibilities, the next great thing if only...
Europe's glories, many well deserved, are in the past. No matter the discipline, America is at the forefront. If it weren't so there wouldn't be the brain drain into America. It's not just the taxes, as is often opined-- it is the fact that the innovation, ideas and excitement are here. No matter how I often I visit, Europeans always asks, 'What's new in America? What wonders are we in store for, from you crazy Americans?'
Europeans could not and cannot deal with the realities of our times. Like the fading beauty, she resorted to more makeup, a new, more provocative wardrobe and the desperate, outrageous flirtations designed to attract attention. Europe is putting herself through an 'extreme makeover', in attempt to delay the inevitable reality that America is the future, the Belle of the Ball.
The US now dominates the world of trade. While most people see that in stricly economic terms, it is much more. In reality, free trade is the truest expression of peace. Countries and region at peace can manage to somehow put aside their differences, in order to trade. Wars are not good for free trade. Notwithstanding the military industrial complex, free trade of goods and services provide far more money and benefits to the economy and standard of living to any country. Trade is good for everybody.
The EU has more to do with 'commonality of interests' than it has to do with trade. In order to stay competitive with the US, Europe coalesced into a 'Union'-- a Union meant to be the equivalent of the US economic powerhouse, or so they said.
Of course, that's the illusion. The free flow of goods via trade isn't rocket science, so the years of EU wrangling was about more than trade. In fact, it was the opposite. It was about forming a common voice, a 'gang' that would take on American dominance. They were sure to succeed, they thought, because Americans are stupid. Americans don't like being perceived as a bully, they'd back down and back away.
They are weak. Temporarily (and often against the wishes of their citizens), European leaders put aside their economic, cultural and moral differences to form this 'gang' that would bully the US and thus delay the inevitable. They have artificially cobbled together a constitution that pleases no one and attempts to impose values and cultural distinctions that in many cases, are directly opposed to the cultural distinctiveness of the countries they purportedly bind.
Taking their lessons from the Arab world and improving upon them, European leaders are waving their own, now common flag, attempting to focus the attention of their citizens outward. It has become an 'les Europeannes vs les Americaines' affair. Never mind that European democracies are overrun with lunatic fringe parties that threaten to immobilize effective government. No matter that illegal immigration has been tolerated-- and now Europe is paying the price, with a frightened citizenry. No matter that Europe has effectively abandoned a stable relationship with the US in pursuit of interests that offer no more that short term respites. Now, Europe believes that by becoming a union, the real problems that are not being dealt with at home might go away, if only people can be convinced that being European is more important than doing the very difficult 'right thing'--especially if that 'right thing' is sharing an American interest.
Each European country knows very well that being anti American is against it's own interests. Each country understands that anti Americanism can only serve to distance that country from a reliable and loyal ally.
Therefore, as in the Middle East, a collective of voices becomes one, purporting to speak with the interests of everyone at heart. The Arab League, redux. A concerted voice with a concerted, distinctive anti American message. As in the Middle East, we seem to have only a few, if any, enemies. Saudi Arabia is our 'friend'. Egypt is our 'friend'. Jordan is our 'friend'. Syria hasn't quite been our 'friend', so we slap them with a few ineffectual sanctions in the hope that they too, will be our 'friends'. Each Gulf State is our 'friend'. The State Department tells us we have many 'friends'. We help our 'friends with unending foreign aid and stay mute when time after time, they violate the most basic priciples of human dignity and don't take our side in any matter.
Then comes the The Arab League, claiming to speak with the voice of Arab unity, then does everything in it's power to diminish those 'friendships' by placing obstacles and blocking any attempts at progress that are in the regions best interests. All in the name of unity and the best interests of Arabs overall. The Arab League exists only to preserve the regimes and the status quo in the Middle East. This is the model the EU has chosen for itself. Not to preserve regimes-- but as an attempt to preserve waning European influence, through the vehicle of anti Americanism
It has now become a moral imperative in Europe to be anti American. America threatens European identity, we are told. America is usurping the sphere of European influence, it said. America is dominating the world without taking into account European interests and European needs. Europeans demand to be heard and not feel insulted. Sound familiar?
As I mentioned earlier, our mistakes that have helped Europe become what it is. The Boston Tea Party was not the French Revolution. The Civil War was not WWI. It is hubris on our part to think that we know and understand European history better than the Europeans know it themselves. Europeans do not understand our history. It is hubris to think that just because we are a nation of immigrants, the countries from which those immigrants came from, actually hold a special place in their hearts for us.
The EU, that new common voice, has changed the compact we have with Europe. It cannot be described simply as a counterpart to the economic might of the US. Counterparts are equals-- the EU has written laws that defend certain trade subsidies and abolish others, for example-- effectively enshrining protectionism for itself while decrying it for everyone else. What the EU really has done is become a voice that legitimizes anti Americanism, without, 'naming names', all in the interest of self service at the expense of the US. To think otherwise is naive.
It is not about disagreements or honest differences of opinions, no question. Disagreements can be beneficial and healthy. It is about a fundamental change in European attitudes towards America, ochestrated for no other reason than to deflect attention away from a continent that has become morally bankrupt and an economic stepchild to the US. It is an attempt, as was said earlier, to maintain influence, at our expense.
It is not all of Europe. Eastern Europe still has memories of the regimes that oppressed her and demonized America. That New Europe knows better than all of us, the dangers of that slippery slope. Once embarked upon, anti Americanism needs a constant diet of new demons and outrages to feed itself.
America needs to be the same America it's always been. We share our values with those who have the same values. If those basic values change, our relationships need to change. Not neccesarily in a dramatic fashion, but they do need to change. Our interests come first.
As Communism, the artchitect of global anti democracy movements failed, so too will the anti Americanism of Europe fail. It is inevitable. Political movements, that by design, are not in the best interest of the citizenry, will fail.
Anti Americanism as a newly minted European moral imperative, is one such movement.